“Dad, what will happen to us if you and mother both die?” I asked my father after he returned home from his first hospitalization.

“Your Uncle Bob will raise you,” he said.

The answer he gave and the philosophy behind it would influence many of my future choices about life – including how I evaluate political candidates asking for votes in exchange for their confessions of faith.

His answer surprised us because my father was a Bible-toting Baptist pastor and Uncle Bob tended to use his family Bible as a coaster for his beer. Since my father had two teetotaling sisters who attended church as much as he did, we asked him why he had chosen our Uncle Bob over our two aunts.

“But Dad,” we said, “Uncle Bob doesn’t go to church. Plus, he drinks beer!”

“And smokes,” added my sister.

“Your uncle may not attend church, but I’m certain that he’ll raise you the way I want you raised. You’ll go to church.”

My father was certain that his selection of a competent guardian would ensure we would be raised with faith, but questioned whether a faithful guardian equaled a competent parent.

The same argument for competency influenced my choice of colleges. Many of my Christian friends were considering the same local Bible college. Indeed, the school had many deeply committed Christian professors.

In the end, I chose Baylor University because it was a school recognized for its faith and for its competencies.

Dr. Abner McCall, then university president, was fond of asking: “Is there such a thing as Christian math or Christian composition? No,” he said, “there is not. Whether you’re adding Bibles or bricks, the math comes out the same.”

“The difference between our school and a good state school,” he said, “is that when you flunk a difficult class at Baylor, our professors cry with you.”

McCall was emphasizing that competent, religious beliefs and principles would be both respected and reflected.

Iowans focused discussions last week on electing a president and some of that talk was about picking a man of faith – which begs the question: Is it more important to have a Christian president than a competent president?

President Bush, a born-again Christian, is one of the most openly religious presidents in generations. It’s great that our president attends church, but I’d rather know he’s attending his cabinet meetings and making competent decisions.

Political strategists from both parties suggest that Democratic presidential candidates who are not willing to talk about their faith on the campaign trail will have a hard time wooing voters especially in the South.

That may be why Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont with a New Englander’s penchant for practicing his Congregationalist faith quietly, said in Iowa a couple of weeks ago that he needed to learn to talk on the campaign stump about his faith.

Later, Dean got some negative press for incorrectly placing the book of Job in the New Testament, but I’d rather read that he knows where to find Afghanistan.

The problem with electing or re-electing someone because they claim to have faith is that it becomes difficult to distinguish those claiming to be “born again” from those “born to be wild.”

Since the very nature of faith is person, then anyone can claim they have it. So how do you tell the difference? Christian writings give sober counsel when the Apostle Paul warns of “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”

The truth is that while I consider my faith to be a deep one, I would not make a competent president. Or put another way, “I am not now, nor shall I ever be a candidate for the president of the United States.” (Sorry, Mom.)

Presidential candidates likely will be discussing their faith in the upcoming campaign. I truly believe that most do it because faith is a strong motivator in their own personal lives. However, there is no way any of us can be totally sure of their motives and, even if we were sure, no motive is completely pure of selfishness.

As my father chose a competent guardian to ensure the continuance of our faith, so should we also choose the most competent guardian of democracy. A choice for competency is always a choice for freedom to flourish.

So, the only way I can assure you that the people of faith will be heard in the election is to vote for the most competent candidate. Make your choice for a candidate who will honor and respect all religions. Because only by honoring all can we protect our own.